When Taka Tamut (27), a mountaineer from Arunachal Pradesh who scaled Mt Everest last year, heard that an An-32 aircraft of Indian Air Force had crashed in a remote mountainous region near the China border earlier this month, he decided to help – he drove from state capital Itanagar to join the search for the wreckage in Pari Adi mountains.
Stating that he decided he just “had to help the search team and put my knowledge of the terrain and mountaineering experience to use”, Tamut, who comes from Arunachal Pradesh’s Siang district and is settled in Itanagar, said, “I bore the price for my equipment and gear.”
The AN-32, which took off from the Air Force Station in Assam’s Jorhat on June 3 at 12.27 pm, never landed at Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground in Arunachal’s Shi Yomi district.
On June 11, the IAF said that the wreckage was spotted 16 km north of Lipo, at an approximate elevation of 12,000 ft, by an IAF helicopter. In that helicopter were Tamut and his friend and colleague Kishon Tekseng (28), who had scaled the Everest with him and volunteered to join the search.
The next day, a team of 15 mountaineers, comprising personnel from IAF, the Army and civilians, were airdropped to the nearest possible location.
On June 20, IAF announced that the bodies of all 13 personnel were recovered. Tekseng was among a small team that was airlifted on June 18, and two local hunters joined the team later.
Tamut was part of the 15 members who remained stranded till the evening of June 29 – nine days after the recovery – when they were airlifted.
“We are glad that we could use our skills in helping the IAF. The location was extremely difficult,” said Tekseng, who hails from Upper Siang district. “At such an altitude, you are facing extreme difficulty to breathe and the slope of the mountain-side where you are standing is around 75-80 degrees.”
Tamut added, “There was a burning smell everywhere; everything was charred.”
From the spot where they were airdropped, the rescue team had to trek 5-6 km to reach the crash spot, he said.
Stranded for nine days after the recovery, each morning the team prepared to leave but the weather continued to to be inclement.
“From June 20 to 29, we must have packed our tents 10 times, hoping that the weather would clear. Then we would again unpack and search for wood to light fire and cook dinner,” Tamut said. “Our ration was supplied by IAF.”
He said: “We had nothing to do. The IAF and Army men had satellite phone and through that I once called Rajeev Takuk, DC of Siang. He had helped me during my Everest expedition also – he informed my father that I was fine and alive.”